What do you do if you have run out of life-saving medication at the weekend? Well, I found out the other week. As a retired NHS employee, and this being the first time in years, I realised things have really changed.
So, my predicament reared its head on a Friday evening. To quote Jimmy in David Nobbs’ The Rise & Fall of Reginald Perrin, “there was a cock-up on the ordering front”. I went to fill up my pill box for the week and found I was short of the most important tablets.
Not one. I need a small dose twice daily for my heart to be happy.
I use the NHS App to order my prescription items and I must have forgotten to do that final scroll down and hit the Continue button at the bottom. I may also have been distracted as I usually put a collection reminder on my calendar, but I’d missed that as well.
In the last year or so, both my GP surgery and the nearby independent pharmacy have reduced their hours, so there was no resolving this with them until Monday morning.
Panic started to set in.
I grabbed my phone to look into how and where I could get an emergency supply for the weekend. I live in the suburbs of Ipswich and the upshot of my Google research appeared to be that I would have to drive over to the one pharmacy operating an emergency medication service in Stowmarket.
There are plenty of supermarket pharmacies around these days. But as they weren’t listed as supplying emergency prescriptions, I wasn’t certain they would have the authority to provide this service. Perhaps they didn’t have a suitably qualified pharmacist on duty?
Widening my search, the nearest emergency pharmacy each time was Stowmarket, the next nearest at Bury St Edmunds, Beccles and Colchester. But…What? Nothing in Suffolk’s county town, with its population of 140,000?
My search also suggested I may, perhaps, need to be prepared to have to pay for a private prescription and private purchase of my essential tablets.
What happened to the NHS, free at the point of care?
More about the NHS
Thankfully my predicament was quickly resolved when I remembered how my ‘pill box stock up day’ came to be changed to such a risky day as Friday. It was because I had a toiletry bag all packed ready for a few days away, and when it all got cancelled, I didn’t return my tablets to the box. So, I had sufficient in the house to get me through to Monday when I could put in an urgent request and pick it up on Tuesday. Phew!
I emailed the powers that be: Suffolk Local Pharmaceutical Committee, to ask some questions and confirm that my research was correct.
Tania Farrow, Chief Officer of SLPC, was prompt to respond and very helpful. She told me that 98% of Suffolk pharmacies are signed up to providing emergency medicine during their contracted hours. However out of hours facilities are no longer commissioned as they were so rarely used. If I had called NHS111 there would have been both GPs and pharmacists to advise on the risks of missing medications, to assess my situation and arrange for collection of a supply from a pharmacy of my choosing.
Apparently – and key to my story – a search for an emergency pharmacy made on Friday evening would give very different results to the same search on a Saturday morning, because the system returns pharmacies open within an hour of the search. Because it’s an emergency.
Ah, I see!
On checking, aside from that supermarket pharmacy in Stowmarket (Asda) which closes late on a Friday (11pm), lots of options appear nearer to me during Saturday.
Always dial 111
If I had called them, NHS111 would have advised me about Friday night’s tablet being missed and then arranged a supply to collect Saturday morning.
What else did I learn from this experience?
Trying to be independent and rely totally on the internet can cost you. Without a prescription and without calling NHS111, things looked very different.
An emergency pharmacist can charge for a private prescription to be dispensed. They like to have an old prescription or the medicine’s packaging to be able to assess the situation and then they may provide up to 30 days’ treatment if they have it in stock.
There are a few exceptions. Certain controlled drugs will not be supplied at all, or there may be a reason for them to decide that only a minimum amount, a real emergency supply, will be given until the GP can take back control.
The website could explain its search functions better. The advert about calling NHS111 first should be more like one of those public service films, across all channels and media outlets so that more people are aware of their rights and responsibilities.
Sometimes, it is right to ‘bother’ the busy NHS staff, to make that cry for help, because they can provide a better service than your internet search.
Sometimes, however, we must remember our responsibilities too and look after ourselves whenever we can.